Born in Thailand in 1937, Amporn Wathanavong has lived a heroic journey. Orphaned at five, he survived by begging until he was lured into the jungle as a boy soldier. A stranger and a mentor changed the course of his life. Today Dr.Amporn is known as the “foster father of 50,000 street children”. At 82, he still directs FORDEC the NGO he created with his personal retirement funds.
Born in France in 1909, Father Bonningue’s first mission was to China. After being imprisoned there and eventually expelled, he joined the first Jesuits in their new mission to Thailand. It was the social center Father Bonningue created in Bangkok which welcomed Amporn and forever changed the course of his life. Together they eventually founded the first Credit Union in Thailand. Father Bonningue inspired Dr. Amporn’s life long devotion to social works.
Thousands of destitute and street Thai children have learned to read and write, add and subtract as well as care for their personal hygiene because of the work of FORDEC. They are five, seven and twelve year olds with names such as Chakri, Sunan and Malee. Many will find basic work, a few will go on to high school and fewer still will reach university. They are every child but with less fortune. FORDEC offers them education and hope.
Visit FORDEC Website
Chantal Jauvin met Nok and Nun two young girls attending FORDEC day care school in Bangkok, Thailand on a sultry day of March 2010. While Chantal waited to be introduced to Dr. Amporn who was delayed by traffic, a school teacher translated for them. The girls wanted to show her their homes. They walked hand in hand with Chantal touring her through the nearby slum. It was the beginning of The Boy with A Bamboo Heart and of Chantal’s crossing from legal to creative non-fiction writing.
Learn about Chantal’s experience writing “The Boy with a Bamboo Heart” while she traveled in Thailand.
The Life of Dr. Amporn
Follow the visual journey of little Lek as he becomes Phra Amporn and eventually Dr. Wathanavongs.
A Visitor's Impression of FORDEC
Visit FORDEC on location and experience the children’s lives through the eyes of a visitor to Bangkok.
FAQs About The Boy With A Bamboo Heart
Why the title: The Boy with a Bamboo Heart?
The title emerged after the writing of the book. As a rainstorm swept through Hua Hin, where Chantal lives part of the year with her husband. She was captivated by the bamboo swaying in the midst of the storm. Once the downpour passed, the bamboo stood upright again to provide shade for the locals. What better way to describe Dr. Amporn than by reference to bamboo?
The bamboo is known for its resilience, versatility and strength. Those are some of Dr. Amporn’s greatest personal qualities. He survived years as a street orphan and as a boy soldier. He adapted to life as a monk and then reinvented himself as a husband and a father. His will to find his way and help others has been a strong determinant throughout his journey.
But there are more subtle similarities between his character and the bamboo tree. The trunk of the bamboo is composed of hollow parts and rings. This internal structure is what makes the bamboo strong. Each part of Dr. Amporn’s life is like one of these compartments. Together they form his life and make him strong.
The foundation he has created, FORDEC, is a testament to his benevolent heart. Like the bamboo, he nourishes people and produces oxygen in the form of hope and dignity. When I think of Dr. Amporn, I think of a bamboo heart.
Why tell this story?
Chantal has always been drawn to ordinary people who become heroes. Dr. Amporn’s story is nothing short of a hero’s journey, the kind that Joseph Campbell writes about.
What she loved about this story is that this is a Thai man helping Thai people. We often read of foreigners being inspired to help people far away from their homes. Those acts of altruism are no less genuine and noteworthy. However, to help the people in one’s own neighbourhood means that you take responsibility.
Thailand is a very diverse country with a rich culture too often packaged for tourist consumption. The opportunity to broaden the perspective beyond stories of experiences in the Bangkok Hilton prison and the prostitution or “companionship” industry was a motivating factor. There are many unsung heroes whose stories need to be told to show the hearts and souls behind the smiles of Thailand.
What is Dr. Amporn’s legacy?
During Chantal’s interviews with Dr. Amporn he said, “I started with nothing. So, I’ve always thought that whatever life brings, you must help others. When you die, you cannot bring anything with you. Knowing that you have helped others because you have received help from others, well, that’s enough.”
Chantal believes that his message of education as the basis for personal freedom and dignity is particularly relevant in current times.
Has the book won any awards?
Yes, the book has won an award The Asia Book Blog Award.
The book was a finalist for the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in Author three categories: Biography, Memoir and Inspiration Non-Fiction.